Maulvi Sahib

I will always feel fortunate that I was born at Aligarh .

Aligarh was and is a unique city, having imbedded the sophistications of Muslim culture with blends of Brije, Bhojpuri and other eastern cultures.

It is strange that in spite of being so close to the birth place of Lord Krishna, by and large people of the two major communities of Aligarh are not fanatic. I do not know if the cultural background of Aligarh counted when the great visionary Sir Syed Ahmad Khan established at Aligarh the great seat of learning, the Muhammadan Anglo oriental college, which ultimately became Aligarh Muslim University.

When I look back to my childhood and try to analyze as to who influenced and inspired me most and was instrumental in inculcating in me the ethos of humanity, the name of Maulvi Sahib stands tall and unambiguous.

Maulvi Sahib was my first teacher and was the one who unknowingly inspired me to become a teacher. He used to visit our family on alternate days to teach primarily Urdu, but also some other subjects like Math, Geography etc. Normally he will come at about 4.30 pm, when we were back from our schools and had finished lunch.

As a matter of fact a bunch of about 15 boys and girls consisting of my brothers and cousins along with sons and daughters of some neighbors of both communities, all in the age group of 8 to 15 years will assemble at our house to attend the ‘matab’ (class) of Maulvi Sahib.

I have no idea about the formal education of Maulvi Sahib but he was the most respected person for one and all in our family and in our locality. Ours was a joint family with our grandfather (who carried an honorary title) as the head. Even our grandfather will sit-up and say addab to Maulvi Sahib which made Maulvi sahib a very special and respectable person in the eyes of all others.

Before the appointed time of 4.30 pm a ‘dari’ (floor matting) was laid for the students to sit, a ‘Muddha’ (chair made of bamboo sticks) and a wooden table were arranged for Maulvi Sahib under the ‘Chappar roofed’ Veranda of the house.

Special care was taken to dust and clean every article as Maulvi sahib was very particular about cleanliness. He carried a duster like cloth with him and will clean both the Muddha and the table before sitting.

One of us one day asked Maulvi sahib as to why he dusts before sitting knowing well that both the table and the chair were already cleaned. Maulvi sahib replied that even a dog sweeps with his tail before sitting on the ground, therefore we humans should at least learn few things from animals. That day Maulvi sahib gave a long lecture on the faithfulness of dog and the importance of cleanliness. I still remember, as if it happened only yesterday, the lecture given by him, in which he emphasized the importance not only of physical cleanliness but also of mental and spiritual purity.

He narrated the story of a teacher who asked each student of his class to bring ‘bares’ (a small berry like fruit) equal in number to the enemies or people he or she disliked. Most of the students brought one or two berries each but one particular boy, who was quarrelsome, came with 10 berries. The teacher asked the students to take the berries back and bring them again after ten days.

During the next ten days time berries got rotten and when students carried them to school they were stinking. Therefore, it was difficult for students to even carry them to the school. Entering the class and seeing the teacher, students started asking him to permit them to throw the rotten berries in the dust bin as it was not possible to bear the foul smell. Obviously, the boy who had 10 rotten berries was most upset and was in a hurry to throw them.

The teacher permitted the students to trash the rotten berries and explained that evil thoughts and ill- will against others are just like rotten berries, longer you allow them to be with you more polluted your mind becomes. The best way to keep your mind and thoughts fresh, clean and vibrant is to get rid of bad thoughts as early as possible.

Maulvi Sahib explained that you may feel offended by some action or words spoken by others, and may have the desire to take revenge. But it is not wise to do that. Why should you disturb your own peace of mind. He further stressed that we should never do something that may hurt others and should not speak in loud and harsh language to anyone, including animals.

I know that this story made an everlasting impression on all of us. One reason why his narrations were so effective was the fact that he himself followed what he preached. Personally, Maulvi Sahib was very clean, always wore clean cloths, will rinse his mouth and wash his face before starting the class. It was his standing orders that every student of his class must wash his face and hands before coming to the class. He will say that studying is like worshiping, and so we must be clean.

The same message was repeated much later, when I was a student of MSc (Physics) at the Aligarh Muslim University. Professor Mohammad Zillur Rehaman Khan Sahib (son-in-law of Dr Zakir Hussain Sahib) was one of our teachers. Khan Sahib had a very rich personal library of books on physics. Quite often we used to visit his library to consult books which were not available in departmental seminar. It was mandatory to first wash hands before touching any book in his library. We have great regard for Prof Khan.

Another remarkable aspect of Prof Khan was his great knowledge of Hindu traditions and of Hindu Gods. I remember how he once described the importance of a Hindu festival ‘Basant Punchmi’ to us and about the role & powers of Goddess Saraswati, the deity of Knowledge. I have no hesitation in admitting that my knowledge in this regard was and is still almost nil.

Coming back to Maulvi Sahib, it was about 5-6 years after the partition of the country, Uma, my cousin who was perhaps the senior most amongst us, very good at studies and very out spoken, asked a very awkward question from Maulvi Sahib.

She said, “Maulvi Sahib, you are a Muslim then why did you not chose to go to Pakistan?”. Maulvi sahib was visibly upset for a while but soon got back to his cool self. His reply was revealing. He replied, “Yes I am a Muslim but it has nothing to do with my not going to Pakistan. I was born here, this is my country, I know people here, they know me, and above all I have such wonderful and intelligent students like you to teach. My mission is still incomplete. God willing, Uma, I wish to see you as a highly educated Vakil (Advocate) and I will stay here to see that.”

That day Maulvi Sahib postponed formal teaching and told us a few facts that reverberate in my mind even now. He told that religion is a personal affair; one must have a religion, should strictly follow it and should be faithful to it. He further said that you will become a truly religious person only if you respect the religion of others more than that of your own. However, when it comes to living, one must look to the society around him. He opined that he would like to live in a society that has same social values and not necessarily the same religion.

Laughingly, he asked Uma if she would like to visit a garden that has flowers of the same kind or the one where there are flowers of many different varieties and colours. He said that each individual is like a flower and religion is like the different hues and varieties of flowers.

He further explained that I know and accept the society where I am living now. Going somewhere else without any knowledge of the place, surroundings, searching new students to teach etc is neither required nor wise. He reminded us of the old adage: One bird in hand is better than two in the bush.

He tried to explain the disadvantages of the transplantation of a grownup plant and advantages and beauty of diversity by citing several examples. There is another thought that keeps lingering in my mind. Maulvi Sahib for the first time told us that there are two species of humans, the parents and the teacher, who always wish that their wards outshine them, attain heights higher than them and it becomes a matter of great pleasure for them if they are remembered as the parents/ teacher of such and such famous person.

Maulvi Sahib always had great reverence for mothers. He used to say that one may attain very high positions through his/her hard work and studies but it is only in the lap of the mother that a child touches the sky.

It is unfortunate that I have almost forgotten most of the formal education imparted by Maulvi Sahib, particularly, Urdu as I had very little opportunities in my profession to read or write this beautiful language.

However, virtues and characters defines a human and Maulvi Sahib was an embodiment of these virues which are still fresh in my mind. Till this day I really do not understand how and when qualities like self confidence, love for humanity, respect for others and their religions, norms of politeness and decent behavior, critical evaluation and rational judgment on events happenings around crept unknowingly and effortlessly amongst the students of Maulvi Sahib in about an hour’s company with him on alternate days.

I realize that the concept imparted by Maulvi Sahib and his ‘Matab’ may not be relevant in the present environment, however, what I very strongly feel that unbiased and non-religious moral teachings, either formal or informal, are still very relevant and may go a long way in developing a balanced and rational society.

Professor Rajeshwari Prasad Mathur is Emeritus Professor of Physics and ex-Dean, Faculty of Science Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, UP, India

Professor Rajeshwari Prasad Mathur

Prof. R. Prasad, Emeritus Professor of Physics, superannuated from the Department of Physics, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India on 31 August, 2006, after distinguished service of 43 years out of which 21 years as Professor of Nuclear Physics. He served the Aligarh Muslim University in various capacities as Lecturer, Reader, Professor, Chairman Department of Physics and Dean, Faculty of Science. About a dozen students completed their Ph.D work under his supervision and more than twenty five students their M.Phil work. He has authored four books, two published by Sangam publications, India, one ‘Nuclear Physics’ by Pearson, India and the fourth ‘Classical and Quantum Thermal Physics’ by the Cambridge University Press, U.K. He has published more than hundred research papers in reputed international journals. He has done post-doc work at I-Institute of Nuclear Physics, University of Hamburg, Germany; Swiss Institute of Nuclear Research (SIN), Switzerland, Atom Institute Wien, Austria; Abdus Salam Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy; Inter University Accelerator Centre (IUAC), India; Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC), India, etc. Prof. Prasad and his research group are actively involved in research on Heavy Ion Interactions. Prof. Prasad Chaired sessions of many International and National Conferences held in India and in other countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh. He is a life member of many learned societies.